No Rudy Gobert. No Hassan Whiteside. No Joe Ingles.

An off shooting night from your all-star backcourt.

All while playing against the reigning MVP who’s having a better season than last year — Utah should’ve been in some serious trouble on Wednesday night.

Instead, with the entire nation watching, Bojan Bogdanovic reminded everyone that he’s much more than a secondary scorer on this team. Dropping a season-high 36 points, Bogdanovic helped the Jazz overcome a triple-double by Nikola Jokic and take down Denver 115-109.

“It’s hard to rank, it feels like the biggest win right at this moment,” head coach Quin Snyder said. “It’s the most unique game we’ve won this year, particularly with the way we played and were able to win the game. It was a big win under different, in addition too difficult, circumstances.”

With Utah’s three all-stars of Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, and Mike Conley and reigning sixth man of the year Jordan Clarkson garnering so much attention, the play of Bogdanovic and his steady shooting hand can often get lost in the shuffle.

That wasn’t the case against the Nuggets.

He scored 36 points on 12-of-20 shooting from the floor, including an 11-for-13 performance from the free throw line. Not settling for contested three-pointers, Bogdanovic showed impressive skill in not only getting to the rim but also finishing, especially when defended by the more athletic Aaron Gordon.

But where he made his mark came on the defensive end of the court by helping make up for the loss of Gobert and his NBA-leading 15.1 rebounds per game. Bogdanovic grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds, all of which came on the defensive end — he added four assists.

“I’m just trying to be aggressive,” Bogdanovic said. “Mike and Donovan are looking for me because they can feel it that I’m in good shape. I just feel great and am just doing whatever it takes to be aggressive and win the game.”

Royce O’Neale, not much of a scorer but someone who does so many little things, was sensational tonight with so many players out. He finished with a double-double of 13 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists.

But where he was most impressive was at the end of the game.

With Denver sticking with Jokic at the five position, Snyder elected to go small with Rudy Gay serving as the defunct center. But with him taking advantage of switches with his shooting and playmaking, the Nuggets elected to put Jokic on O’Neale, ultimately forcing O’Neale to make the right plays down the stretch — and he delivered.

“I thought Royce did a terrific job at the five,” Snyder said.

Gay was also phenomenal, thrust into a much more active role as the small-ball center for most of his season-high 29 minutes. He finished with 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two blocks, and a game-high +14 rating.

He was much more aggressive tonight, often making the right play by either shooting, getting to the rim, or kicking out to an open shooter. His aggressiveness allowed the Jazz to thrive offensively when going small despite Jokic still being in the game,

“We’ve played Rudy at the five at times this year,” Snyder said. “It’s a different look. I thought things that we all know, his ability to pick and pop and how it puts pressure on the defense, was great. Frankly, when after he hit a couple shots, they switched the matchup.”

The game was a back-and-forth affair as neither was able to gain much separation in the opening half. With the Jazz attempting to trap Jokic and force the ball out of his hands nearly every time he touched it, Denver could not knock down the open three-pointers.

Meanwhile on offense, Utah was still trying to figure out how it would play small with a lineup that had struggled of late. The Jazz appeared to be passing the ball too much, something Snyder has talked about this season, instead of playing within the natural flow of the offense.

Utah led 57-56 at the half.

The third quarter is where Utah was able to gain some separation, starting the third quarter strong with an 11-2 run to lead by 10.

After the Nuggets cut the deficit to seven late in the third following a Jokic three-point play, Bogdanovic took over by scoring Utah’s final nine points to give the Jazz a 10-point lead entering the fourth.

Denver made one last run, making it a four-point game with under a minute left, but Bogdanovic calmly knocked down two free throws with nine seconds left to seal the victory.

Mitchell scored 17 points while Conley added 10 points and six assists.

Udoka Azubuike, playing for the first time since injuring his ankle a few weeks ago, did a phenomenal job starting and defending Jokic.

“For him to come in for his first NBA start and play against arguably the best player in the game right now. … The minutes he gave us were incredibly important,” Snyder said of Azubuike.

Jokic finished with 26 points, 21 rebounds, and 11 assists, while Will Barton and Monte Morris added 20 points each.

The Jazz will continue their five-game road trip with three games in four days, beginning with Toronto on Friday night. Tipoff is set for 5:30 p.m. MST.


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